Mind that itch!

man scracthing crotchThe term STD includes any disease that can be transmitted by sexual acts. As these diseases are all infectious, they are also known as sexually transmitted infections or STIs. All people irrespective of their biological sex or gender are susceptible to STIs.

What are the common STIs?

STIs include bacterial diseases like gonorrhoea, viral diseases like HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and herpes simplex, and spirochaetal diseases like syphilis.

Do all STIs cause symptoms in the genitals?

No. While some STIs can cause sores, rash, blisters, bumps, burning, pain, itching or discharge from the penis, anus or vagina, some can be present with no sexual symptoms at all (like hepatitis B).

What are the sexual symptoms of STIs?

That depends a lot on the specific type of infection. Gonorrhoea and chlamydia can cause a burning sensation in the urinary tract and discharge of pus from the genitalia. Syphilis can cause a sore on the genitals or a skin rash in advanced cases. Herpes simplex causes painful blisters on the skin.

Apart from the genitals, the mouth and throat can also be affected by STIs.

Can one have STIs without sexual contact?

Yes. HIV and hepatitis B and C can be transmitted through transfusion of untested blood, sharing of needles and medical procedures.

How are hepatitis B and C manifested?

They may not produce any symptoms at all in most people. Some develop jaundice, very few develop cirrhosis of liver and less than one percent of the infected persons develop liver cancer.

How is HIV manifested?

HIV weakens our immune system and can cause different other infections called opportunistic infections. It also causes severe weight loss and some cancers like Kaposi’s sarcoma and lymphoma. Given the wide range of symptoms that HIV can produce, it is only confirmed by specific blood tests.

How can one prevent STIs from happening?

Safe blood transfusion practices, safer sex, no sharing of needles and other sharps, and seeking medical help when in doubt.

Are STIs treatable?

While most of them like gonorrhoea, syphilis and herpes simplex are perfectly curable, some like hepatitis B or C and HIV are treatable.

Where does one seek help for STIs?

All medical colleges and hospitals in India have STI treatment facilities in the skin (dermatology) department. The service is linked to the medicine, gynaecology and paediatrics departments as well as the Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres (ICTCs) for HIV.

Can one get tested for HIV for free?

Yes. Contact the nearest ICTC for a free HIV test – the government has set up a vast network of ICTCs in all cities and at the district level.


This post was originally published in Varta – a blog that aims to promote dialogue and understanding on gender and sexuality as issues intimate and integral to human development in India.

Tirthankar Guha Thakurta
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